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This week The Alchemist takes a close look at chemical bonds and the microbes on ATMs. We hear about a new material on the catwalk, glowing liquid batteries, and methane-munching microbes. And, finally, an award for three decades of work on chemical reaction engineering.

Cambridge University researchers and their colleagues elsewhere in Europe have created a pico-cavity device from gold atoms that can focus light to a resolution below its wavelength effectively creating a pico-scale version of the microscope that allows them to local at individual chemical bonds in a molecule. The "pico-cavity" has to be the smallest microscope slide holding a simple comprising a single molecule in bump in a gold nanostructure and confining light to less than a billionth of a meter.

Scientists in New York are swabbing ATMs (automated teller machines) to profile the city's DNA from the mass of microbes, human skin cells and other detritus deposited on the ATM keypad by users every day. Jane Carlton and her colleagues at New York University identified sources of microbes on the keypads as household surfaces such as televisions, restrooms, kitchens and pillows. They also found microbes from bony fish, mollusks, and chicken in different neighborhoods. However, the samples had low diversity and showed no obvious clustering by geography.

Haifei Zhan of Queensland University of Technology in Australia and colleagues have been modeling diamond nanothread as a novel material for fabrics of the future. Diamond nanothread, which is not dissimilar to carbon nanotubes is thin, low density, flexible and strong was invented by scientists at Pennsylvania State University in 2015. "It's possible DNT may become as ubiquitous as plastic in the future, used in everything from clothing to cars," explains Zhan. "While both carbon nanotubes and DNT have great potential, the more I model DNT properties, the more it looks to be the superior material," Zhan adds.

The fluorescent dye BODIPY (boron-dipyrromethene) could be the perfect material for storing energy in rechargeable, liquid-based batteries for powering cars and homes of the future, according to US researchers. Timothy Cook and his colleagues at the University of Buffalo have carried out experiments on a BODIPY-based test battery operated efficiently and functioned for 100 charge-recharge cycles.

Methanotrophic bacteria, which grow on methane, can be used to convert biogas from farms, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants into raw materials for animal feed or bioplastic, according to research carried out at the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT). For instance, based on earlier research microbes can generate enzymes that can be used to make substitutes for conventional protein in feed or be further converted into biopolymers.

Israel Wachs who is the G. Whitney Snyder Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh University, USA, is the recipient of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' top award in chemical reaction engineering. The award is in recognition of more than three decades of work in the development of cutting edge technology and growth areas in chemical reaction engineering. Wachs received the R. H. Wilhelm Award at the opening ceremony of the institute's 2016 Meeting in San Francisco. Wachs' research focuses on mixed metal oxides, supported metal oxides, bulk metal oxides, polyoxometalates, and zeolites for catalysis as well as molecular sieves.